On a peaceful afternoon in the Atlantic, off Key West, you can hear the slapping of the waves and the giddy call of the dolphins as the boat nears. The boat itself, propelled by an electric motor powered by solar panels, barely disturbs the quiet.
Captain Billy Litmer built the boat, called Squid, and his eco Dolphin touring business, called Honest Eco, with one goal in mind: to give people an unforgettable experience and teach them about the ecology of the ocean.
His mission is more important than ever. According to a recent report in the journal Science, the oceans are heating up 40% faster than a United Nations intergovernmental panel estimated 5 years ago. And warmer oceans are not only bad for the dolphins and other inhabitants of the marine eco system. The oceans absorb heat from the atmosphere and act as a buffer against climate change, slowing its pace. They absorb 93 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, heat caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.
Having an electric boat with a low carbon footprint is Billy’s way of doing his part. He went to great lengths to find the most efficient hull shape. He contacted David Walworth, an MIT educated boat designer and builder, to design the perfect boat for the dolphin watching excursions. David suggested that the multihull boat would be a perfect for going electric.
The combination of the Sunflare panels and the lithium batteries make electric propulsion possible. Squid has two BMW i3 batteries that hold 64 kWh of power. They weigh about 1200 pounds of lithium ion battery. The solar panels on the other hand are light. The 12 custom-sized modules produce 2000 watts of power and weigh 120 pounds combined. That's 1/4 of the weight of traditional solar panels.
There is a back-up diesel system -- a Lombardini engine attached to a Kolector motor. But the design of the new boat and integration of Sunflare panels mean that on the longest days on the water, the boat burns a mere 3 gallons of diesel fuel per trip compared to 14 gallons per trip. Since the Squid can carry just over twice the passenger load of Honest Eco’s old boat, the per person fossil fuel consumption drops from 2.3 gallons per guest to 1/4 gallon per guest.
One reason Honest Eco picked Sunflare to power Squid is that the two companies have similar missions. Sunflare’s mission is to reduce the carbon footprint. Their own footprint is 80% less than traditional solar, based on the heat generated in manufacturing. Sunflare has patented several products that help breakthrough the barriers that have constrained solar markets.
Honest Eco operates in a wildlife refuge that was set up over 100 years ago. Its mission is to use amazing wildlife experiences to help foster conservation and inspire others to make decisions that center around the good of the environment.
The other aspect that keeps Billy and his family happy is that “every day is different with the dolphins.” He says, “They are playful, intelligent and athletic.” On one trip Billy saw dolphins actually co-operate to cross a flat — a shallow section of water. He said, “I watched as about 15 of them lined up in a row and took off together to create a wave. They basically surfed over the flat together.”
That’s the type of cooperation the Sunflare team hopes will inspire others to take climate change seriously and create a wave of responsibility for our world. It starts with people like Billy Litmer and his business Honest Eco.